Dark Desire
by Christine Feehan
(Lovespell, $4.99, R) ISBN 0-505-52354-X
***
First of all, let me establish my lack of vampiric expertise. My reading in the genre is limited to a couple of Anne Rices, one Barbara Hambly, and one or two Chelsea Quinn Yarbros. The result of this small survey? I find the undead creepy rather than romantic. Fortunately for me, the hero of Christine Feehan's Dark Desire is not a vampire, but rather a Carpathian.

According to Feehan, Carpathians share some traits with vampires, such as feeding on fresh blood, but are essentially benign. For example, Carpathians take care never to kill their human prey for when they do, they themselves suffer…they become vampires. Vampires, in Feehan's world, are evil -- they enjoy not only the blood of their victims but their suffering as they die.

Jacques Dubrinsky is a Carpathian who has been trapped and tortured by two sadistic humans, the eighth in a series of 'vampire murders.' Only this time the men do not kill; instead they drive a stake deep into his chest…missing his heart…and bury him upright in a casket in a wall. Carpathians, like vampires, have the ability to go into a dormant state for years at a time, so Jacques hibernates, in great pain and hunger, for seven years. His only contact during these long years is the mental link he establishes with an American physician, Shea O'Halloran.

Shea is a brilliant surgeon and researcher whose research is aimed at solving the problem of her own rare blood disease. She believes she inherited her disease -- which necessitates regular transfusions of fresh blood -- from the father who deserted her Irish mother before she was born.

Jacques' mental link with Shea causes her to feel the agony of his torture, then -- once he is entombed -- he is able to reach her intermittently and plead for rescue. Driven mad by the pain he has endured, Shea is his only link to the world; he does not understand why she does not come rescue him. In his madness, and unable to remember back his own past, Jacques directs his fury at Shea.

Shea, on the other hand, believes she is having a recurring dream. When she flees the vampire hunters, the same sadistic duo who tortured Jacques, she is unable to explain the impulse keeps her traveling in the direction of the Carpathian Mountains in Romania. Once close to where Jacques is imprisoned, he is able to compel her to find his burial spot and release him.

If opposites attract, then it is no wonder that Jacques and Shea are drawn to each other. Raised by an emotionally distant mother, Shea distrusts her own emotions and instead strongly prefers a reasoned and logical approach to all problems. Because so much of Jacques’ memory has been destroyed, he is forced to react to the world on an emotional level. One of his first reactions is to recognize Shea as his lifemate, an important concept among Carpathians. Shea’s reluctance to agree sets the scene for a number of steamy encounters.

Feehan has constructed the most complete world I have yet encountered in romance fiction for her Carpathians. I might have quibbled about the number of powers she has given them if she had not offset her generosity by endowing them with almost as many limitations as advantages.

Despite the nicely imagined world of the Carpathians, an intriguing pair of lovers, and some well-drawn secondary characters, I found Dark Desire somewhat lacking in conflict and suspense. Most of the action takes place in the last third of the book, with the previous two-thirds being mainly devoted to character building and stage-setting. Furthermore, I guessed the identity of the mysterious individual directing the villains early on, another factor that lessened the tension.

Overall, however, you should find that Christine Feehan’s Dark Desire has enough intriguing elements to keep you reading.

--Nancy J. Silberstein


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